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January 6 Cmte Closes Year With Big Legal Battles Unsettled; Trump: People Aren't Dying When They Take The Vaccine; Dem. Rep. Dingell Shares Threatening Voicemail She Received. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 12:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Kevin McCarthy called the President said, call the troops off, you know, stop this stuff. And the response was along the lines, I guess they care more about the election than you do, Kevin.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: So I guess, Seung Min Kim, since you're talking to these folks every single day, is that reality? Or is this just kind of a public posture that some Trump allies have went behind the scenes, they know they were all there, they know what happened on January 6th.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, use a block around the Capitol, and you see signs of January 6th, and so many ways. I mean, there are I mean, up until very recently, there were still panes of window glass that were shattered from the rioters, so that you could still see when you walked in and out of the Capitol, obviously, when you walk around the house chambers, you see the metal detectors that were put in after the insurrection, because the lawmakers feel that some of their own colleagues may actually be trying to hurt or kill each other.

So what happened on January 6th is very real and you see kind of just how when we get further and further away from the day, the more and more incentive that Republicans have to downplay or even whitewash what happened. I think the perfect example of that is Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader who did put the blame on Trump immediate -- or on former President Donald Trump immediately after the election, but then just a few days later, just really started walking back from the former president's role and perhaps provoking these rioters.

But I think that's kind of the also the role that the January 6th Committee is playing here, in addition to their investigative role, just to really kind of paint a fuller picture of what happened as so many pictures -- so many members of the Republican Party are trying to try to really change that history of what happened on that awful day.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And you mentioned the changing of the history. And Eva, you got it too kind of the advanced team of, you know, Trump acolytes inside the House Republican Conference, who are not a majority of the conference, but by far give more attention than the vast majority of the conference. And there's a clear move by Trump outside allies to get more of them in. Take a listen to Boris Epshteyn, a close outside Trump advisor and what he had to say.


BORIS EPSHTEYN, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: All of these establishment dinosaurs who have no room in today's MAGA environment are decided that it's time to move on. And it is because the MAGA movement, the war on passing, the MAGA movement, and yes, President Donald J. Trump has full control over the Republican Party.


MATTINGLY: You know, there's a great piece in Seung Min's newspaper today about how, you know, the recruiting candidates, the primary people that would line up more with the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and the Matt Gaetzs. And Eve, I want to go back to you just on this one before I get to John, in terms of kind of how you're seeing this play out and what it means for the Republican Conference.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, I mean, the fighting among Republicans and the tension to define the party as solely about proximity to Trump has been fascinating to watch. I have covered the Ohio Republican primary, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary, and it has become sort of a necessary part of running. And, you know, it defies logic, the party that says that they are concerned about canceled culture, canceling conservative members who championed conservative policies, but don't necessarily want to align themselves with the former president.

MATTINGLY: Yes, John, and I want to follow that because you have a really good column this week, kind of about the progression the Republican Party and how it compares to the President's first 11 months in office. But primarily like who these guys are replacing, they're replacing rock rib (ph) conservatives, whether it's Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, if those guys end up winning the general election, but what it means for that Republican conference in the U.S. Senate, if Josh Mandel or Dr. Oz are the people that are replacing them.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think Phil, it's important to remember that this is, yes, about Trump and the grip he has over the party. But it extends far before Trump ever came on the scene. This is a significantly about within the Republican Party, a group of people, principally white evangelical Christians, who think the country that once reflected their aspects of their culture is now slipping away from them economically, culturally, demographically, we're on the way to becoming a majority-minority country.

And the fear and desperation of those white conservatives, it most notably evangelical Christians, is fueling the desperation within the party fueling the MAGA movement. Donald Trump rode that fear and desperation into power with his promise to roll back the changes Make America Great Again. And that's a significantly what we're talking about here.


MATTINGLY: Yes, and we're going to watch it play out in Republican primaries in particular throughout the next couple of months. No question about that. All right, thanks very much guys. Ahead, a new COVID conflict, Donald Trump pushes back against vaccines skepticism. And anti-vax conservative calls him old and out of the loop.


MATTINGLY: We could all it funny. We could call it ironic, don't you think? Former President Donald Trump says if you want to stay out of the hospital, you should consider taking the COVID-19 vaccine. It's responsible science based talk from a president who steered often into conspiracies and half-baked, hey, I heard this might work ideas. But one conservative commentator now says Trump He's wrong on vaccines. Why? Because he's old and he apparently doesn't pay attention to message boards.



CANDACE OWENS, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: He just genuinely believes that the vaccines are good. And he believes that because he comes from a generation like people oftentimes forget like how old Trump is, he comes from a generation. I've seen other people that are older have the exact same perspective, like they came from a time before T.V., before internet, before being able to conduct their independent research. I believe also that he only reads the mainstream media news, believe it or not. I do not believe that Trump reads or partakes in any other new sources. You know, I don't believe that Trump is on the internet.


MATTINGLY: We should note that science supports the former president and fantasy supports Candace Owens. I just, I chuckled, because it's, look, I appreciate the idea that the Trump can't do his own research on the internet, because he's not on the internet. But I also appreciate the idea that science are doing research in labs that actually find cures to things. John Harwood, what's your read on what this means for President Trump in terms of this current posture that he's had on the vaccine in the last couple days?

HARWOOD: Well, first of all, it's never too late to make a difficult situation better. And so I think the country should be grateful that President Trump said the things that he said, which, as you noted were science based. When you do that, with a certain segment of the Republican Party, you're going to get a negative reaction. Candace Owens is a kook. And so she gave a kooky reaction to what the President said that's not surprising. We hear it all the time. But I think the more significant thing was not her reaction, but the fact that Donald Trump said something that was positive for dealing with the pandemic.

MATTINGLY: And I think it's worth noting, the President got the vaccine, he got a booster, he's talked about it more in public, but he's always kind of taking credit for Operation Warp Speed. He took credit again, when Owens pushed back. Take a listen to the exchange.


OWENS: And yet more people have died under COVID this year, by the way, under Joe Biden than under you and more people took the vaccine this year. So people are questioning how --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know the vaccine work. But some people aren't taking. The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take the vaccine, but it's still their choice. And if you take the vaccine, you're protected. People aren't dying when they take the vaccine.


MATTINGLY: Eva, I think the interesting thing is Candace Owens put out that video because of the pushback the president, the former president was getting. Is this caused a major rift inside Trump's supporters that he's taking this position?

MCKEND: I'm not sure it will be I think, for the former president, whatever advisors is advising him on this, he needs to keep listening to them. One of the reasons that so many Americans put their confidence in Joe Biden was because they thought that President Biden took the pandemic more seriously and that the former president didn't take it seriously enough. So now that he is indicating that vaccines work, that's the message the country needs. So whoever he's listening to, whoever is in his ear on this issue, he needs to keep listening. And I don't think that he'll receive a lot of blowback from his supporters.

MATTINGLY: And Seung Min, I guess the biggest question now is, is this tangibly to the most important questions this is tangibly change vaccination rates, particularly among those who are hardened against it? What's your sense?

KIM: It's hard to tell. Obviously, you are looking for validators such as, you know, the former president to try to reach out to the vaccine skeptics, public health experts said -- have said that typically, those are more local officials like, you know, your local doctor, if the former president can get a few more or dozens more to become vaccinated. That's great. But again, with all of this history of flouting public health protocols when he was in the President's -- when he was in the presidency and on the onset of the pandemic, I don't know how much credit he actually deserves.


MATTINGLY: Yes, clearing have a very low bar. All right, thanks, guys. It's on some members of Congress holiday wish list, less toxicity, more unity. But will it ever happen, a closer look straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTINGLY: Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on one thing about Washington, the current climate is toxic. Republican Congressman Fred Upton and Democrat Debbie Dingell talked about threatening voicemails lawmakers are receiving and we've heard about an unprecedented level of other kinds of threats. Remember as President Joe Biden made his round of phone calls to children and their families for Christmas, one father ended with the -- into the call with Let's Go Brandon, that's euphemism for an insult that you can probably Google if you don't know what it means already. So the big question is civility dead in Washington now my panel is back with me. And guys, I don't want to be the morality police here or the civility police even. I think the bigger question is what this means in terms of how Washington works and operates. And Eva, I want to start with you because Congresswoman Dingell played a voicemail in that interview with Dana Bash. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You goddamn old senile --. You're as old and ugly as Biden. You ought to get the -- off the planet. You -- foul --. They ought to -- try to you for treason --. You and every one of your scumbag -- friends. I hope your family dies in front of you. I pray to God, if you've got any children, they die in your face.


MATTINGLY: I guess look, like Charles Sumner was beaten on the Senate floor. We've had ugly times in Washington. This just seems to be at a different level in terms of just how often it's happening right now and the scale in which it's happening what's your sense of things, Eva?


MCKEND: Yes, that's certainly what members of Congress are saying that voicemail is very chilling. I do wonder though how much this hot rhetoric is a play for cameras. Sometimes I see Republican and Democrats walking the Capitol talking to each other joking people with very different political ideology. So I wonder how much of this is show. But even if it is, it has real world implications, because people like that, who call in to the congresswoman, they are taking this very seriously.

I will say this, though, the way back is for members not to engage in a popularity contest or to be a foot soldier for anyone, but to remember why the people sent them there, to legislate, right? That is why we elect these members to legislate. And so I think once they get away from the politics of personality, and remember their mission and their focus, we're going to see a return to civility.

MATTINGLY: And Seung Min, I think that's one of the things at least in talking to members and I know you talk more to them than I do on a daily basis, is that that's -- the voicemail that you just heard from Congresswoman Dingell are starting to break through, right? Like they're used to -- they're used to taking flak. They're used to being criticized, but that's a visceral, personal, violent voicemail. And I think that's been the thing that I picked up from members of like, whoa, this is very different. And we're kind of a scary moment.

KIM: Right, right. And these threats are certainly anecdotes of them as hearing about them are on the rise, and certainly concerning to many members. You know, obviously, there are other members of Congress who have had to walk around with security, aside from the leadership that normally have a detail with them. So it is certainly a concern. And I think another point of concern, too, is that a lot of times a lot of this very coarse, very offensive, very violent rhetoric is coming from the members themselves, and there isn't enough of a condemnation from members of their own party about that rhetoric. You know, we're talking about Representative Paul Gosar's, you know, the image that he tweeted a few weeks ago, depicting violence towards another member.

The fact that that isn't just being overwhelmingly condemned is shocking, and certainly I'm sure is contributing to this. I'm hoping that tempers will cool as soon but we'll have to wait and see.

MATTINGLY: Well, and that's the one thing I want to get to before we close with John is what Fred Upton said, and it's the member to member thing that I think is the biggest difference now than ever before, take a listen.


REP. FRED UPTON (R-MI): You know, you got metal detectors now going on the House floor. We get really nasty threats at home. The tone gets, you know, tougher and tougher. And it's a pretty toxic place. I've never seen anything like this before.


MATTINGLY: And John, that's the question. We got about 20 seconds left, but the member to member distrust concern to some degree fear. Have you ever seen anything like this in your time in Washington?

HARWOOD: I've never seen anything like it. But I think we need to remember it's not a symmetrical problem. The messages that Fred Upton is complaining about, and that Debbie Dingell is complaining about are coming from the same place. That's the political right. For the same reason, the FBI says White Nationalism is the biggest terrorist threat the United States faces. The same kind of people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, that's where the most intense vitriol is coming from. It's not evenly spread between both sides.


MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a great point. This isn't a both sides thing. And it's not just that we don't understand anime thing Representative Gosar. All right, guys, thanks so much as always, for your time and in just a few minutes a hearing today for the truck driver sentence to 110 years in prison for a crash that killed four people. We're live in Denver put up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTINGLY: In just minutes, a Colorado district attorney will ask for a dramatic change to the sentence for a truck driver blamed for a fiery 28 car pileup that killed four people. A judge sentenced Rogel Aguilera-Mederos to 110 years for vehicular homicide and reckless driving. Now the D.A. wants to reduce that to 20 to 30 years. CNN's Lucy Kafanov joins me now from Denver. And Lucy what are we expecting with this today?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, in just a few minutes a status hearing is expected to kick off. We're not looking to a ruling in this case, we're likely going to get a new court date for the court to reconvene to decide what to do next. But what we're talking about is essentially a plan that could get Rogel Aguilera-Mederos 90 years off of his sentence. This is according to the district attorney, Alexis King. She's not looking to overturn the conviction but rather asking the court to reconsider that lengthy sentence, potentially reducing it to 20 or 30 years.

Now, in a statement, she said that Mederos made multiple active choices that resulted in the death of four people like you mentioned, serious injuries to other. She added that the shorter sentence reflects a quote appropriate outcome for that conduct. Now at issue where these Colorado mandatory minimum sentencing laws that basically require sentences for each count to be served consecutively rather than concurrently, which is how those 27 counts turned into more than a century in prison for the now 26-year-old driver. That's a sentence by the way, twice as long as some murder convicts. His attorney has been calling for legal reforms when he spoke to CNN earlier today. Take a look.


JAMES COLGAN, ATTORNEY FOR TRUCK DRIVER ROGEL AGUILERA-MEDEROS: On does it really distinguish between people like Mr. Mederos who is not a danger to society and other people that are sentenced to life that are a danger to society and I think the law needs to make those kinds of exceptions and understand that there is a difference between Mr. Mederos and those other kinds of people.



MATTINGLY: Thanks to Lucy Kafanov for that reporting. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Jessica Dean picks up our coverage right now.